Belfast Telegraph

Belfast builder turns to private sector as stalemate continues

By Rachel Martin

A Belfast construction and maintenance firm has said it's seeking work in the private sector to reduce reliance on government-funded contracts.

Maurice Flynn and Sons in Dunmurry previously had to lay off staff after losing government contracts as a "direct consequence" of 2015's Stormont stalemate.

But the firm, also known as MFS, bounced back and began to hire new staff again around a year ago, but now warns that total reliance on public sector work is "unsustainable".

The company is now branching out into the private sector.

In its latest accounts, directors described political instability as the "key risk" to business.

The firm's latest accounts show turnover rose by £1.23m (7%) from £18.5m to £19.6m in 2016.

Also over the financial year ending August 31, 2016, the firm's pre-tax profits dropped from £546,000 to just under £406,000 - down by more than 25%.

Directors outlined their concerns in the firm's strategic report, which read: "The directors consider the key business risks which could impact on the performance of the company are political instability resulting in reduced public sector spending on the maintenance and improvement of public estate, and the increasing costs of materials as a result of exchange rate fluctuations as a result of the Referendum result on exiting the EU."

Now the firm has said it is entering the private sector, offering residential and office construction, and has also begun to tender for work in the Republic.

In 2016, on average the firm employed 204 people, down from 210 the year before.

Business development director Mark Spence told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are not in any difficulty but we are taking the lead on this. We would like for the departments to sort out their budgets but we are not going to fail because of them - we are very much in charge of our own destiny, but it takes a while to establish your name, it's also about building relationships.

"Public sector work has always been feast or famine. It's famine when they are falling out on the Hill and it's feast when it comes to the end of the year budgets.

"It fluctuates and we are long in the tooth with managing that, but I must say this year has been exceptional in terms of its fluctuation. The public sector has always been a good business partner to us but it's unsustainable."

MFS has been shortlisted as a finalist in two categories in the Irish Construction Awards which will be announced at a gala ceremony on Friday. The firm's recent refurbishment of the Belfast Waterfront Hall is a finalist under the tourism and hospitality project category, while training structures are listed under the excellence in education and training category.

Belfast Telegraph